From desperation comes inspiration, often manifested 10-fold when two people share ideas. When Tony La Spina met Grace Roberts, a new creative industry was born.
Grace Roberts was a respected Bundjalung Elder. She was persistent in pursuing opportunities for children in Coffs Harbour. In 1963, she attended a meeting of the local Aboriginal Welfare committee. 
Also at the meeting was a new schoolteacher to the town, who had an interest in Aboriginal Affairs. His teaching subject was art. He suggested they try some screen printing, just basic designs and perhaps get a cottage industry going. This idea appealed to Grace greatly.
With her enthusiasm and the support of other women at the mission the craft work got under way.
Pottery was introduced and eventually even the children were encouraged to make small clay motifs called Mooks Mooks. These were an abstract design on a small pottery disc threaded onto a leather thong. They were neatly mounted on cardboard with a printed legend of the Mook Mook. It was to become a viable enterprise, making a small profit.
Art teacher Anthony La Spina had moved to Coffs Harbour in 1962. 
Along with raising a family of four with wife, Rae, a move to Coffs Harbour, NSW in 1962 saw Tony teaching art with TAFE (which he was to continue for the next 28 years) as well as teaching art at the Jetty High School and Orara High School – during which time he was seconded to the University of NSW for 3 years to work within the Aboriginal community establishing the Playgroup movement for children.
One of the children who created Mooks Mooks still does so today. He is local artist Tony Hart. He recalled making them and selling them for 20 cents each, a close match to their size. Their sale provided the children with much welcomed pocket money. This is a more recently created one.
Each Mook Mook is unique, and when worn, is meant to discourage negative influences. It will join the work of Tony La Spina in the Regional Gallery’s collection , a fitting symmetry.
One year ago, on 1 September 2020, Coffs Collections was launched. It was the work of a two-year small-team project to prepare digital cultural infrastructure for digitising and sharing the cultural and historical collections of the Regional Museum, the Regional Gallery and the Library. One member of that team shared her view of the outcome:
We have never had all our records or images in one place before, and they’ve never all been publically available before. Coffs Collections has been a breath of fresh air in managing our content!
(On a personal note, it has also meant that I could find sustainable employment in my home town.) I’m so excited for our first birthday!
Nerida, Digital Cultural Collections Specialist
The new service is already starting to make an impact, on Council colleagues and the wider community. Local ABC Radio has created snippets of the interviews to replay each week. Donations, including one recently made by videographer Graham Bell, and research such as an exploration of the Glynn’s cordial factory have been inspired by the easy availability of our local history.
I use Coffs Collections to get a sense of how the environment has changed over time – i.e. have fish stocks (quantity and size) changed, what did specific places look like in the past etc. We then incorporate this information into the tours that we guide.
Elisabeth, Sustainable Living Programs Officer
The interest in preserving Coffs’ identity over time started in 1952, when members of the Country Womens’ Association decided to record information and gather artefacts about the town’s and district’s history. Their enthusiasm, combined with that of educators such as George England (high school teacher), resulted in the development of an historical society for the region in 1955. [Coffs Harbour Vol II : 1946 – 1964, Yeates, 1993, p.167]
Mr England was keen to capture the area’s earliest history too. Another educator, Neil Yeates (university lecturer), subsequently documented the histories of Coffs Harbour and Woolgoolga in three volumes. Much of the raw materials they used and the information they captured are stored in or linked to by Coffs Collections. This service is an expression of our gratitude for their work.
In the years leading up to 2001, and with the support of ambassadors the Banana Twins, the region’s artistic endeavours were drawn to a dedicated facility. As a result, the Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery is celebrating its 20th birthday this year. All of the exhibitions held by the Gallery are available for viewing as a timeline in Coffs Collections.
The first Coffs Harbour City Council digitisation project curated the photographic collection of the Regional Museum, and culminated in the Picture Coffs Harbour service in 2008. It was switched off and integrated into the new service last year.
The community is fortunate to have this very accessible platform – a foundation for the discovery of our identity – which we continue to build on.
Debbie, Local Studies & Digitisation Librarian
When Create NSW funded the project to build Coffs Collections, no one had foreshadowed the impending pandemic lockdowns. The grant opportunity became even more significant, and resulted in a rare example of a merged regional gallery and museum service envied by many other cultural agencies.
Capturing local stories in this single convenient web location will soon be reflected in the co-location of the three cultural facilities – Library, Gallery and Museum – at one physical destination in 2022. We look forward to a shared future.
Coffs Collections makes researching our collections so much easier and more pleasurable. There is so much rich material to be explored and real gems to be found. Prepare to be taken by surprise as your view of Coffs’ history is upended!
Dr Will Speece was a much-travelled and well-read man. His contributions to newspapers wherever he went show a person with an insatiable curiosity for life, commenting on many different subjects of interest.
He appears to have travelled to Adelaide in 1890:
He completed a year’s work in Cobar in March 1893:
Dr Speece returned from the United States in 1894:
A lot of the travel required transfers through Sydney, but it is not clear where Sidney Herbert bumped up against Will Speece. Perhaps Herbert chanced on a newspaper which mentioned his name? A first hint of misdemeanour by Herbert occurred in 1891:
It did not take long for this activity to come to the attention of the police – a notice was issued for the arrest of Herbert on 15 April 1891, and he was arrested 10 days later. The subsequent four years of his hard labour broke the link.
Dr Speece was always in the spotlight in his final town of residence. An article appeared in The Coffs Harbour Advocate on 6 May 1970:
Being very short-sighted, he had great difficulty in finding his way at night and was forced to rely upon his horse’s sense of direction. On being presented with one of the newly introduced electric torches he fixed it to his horse’s head, explaining that the light was no damned good to him but the horse might make use of it.
On teh closure of the mines and the departure of most of the miners, Dr Speece remained at his home “The Fortress”, as he considered that it was the most central position in the district which he served.
(part of a reminiscence related by Mr W. Buchanan of Karangi in his address to a meeting of the Historical Society.)
A sojourn in Coffs of short duration, but with a big impact on the life of this town.
As noted in our last post, Dr William Comely Speece was the first doctor to settle in the local area. The first resident General Practitioner was Dr Robert Kane, appointed in the same year as Will Speece died – 1907.
Will Speece had been in the district for only nine years. He came to Australia in December 1885 as an unassisted saloon passenger on the Zealandia.
He immediately sought to be legally registered in New South Wales:
Not long after, Dr Speece attracted an imposter: Sidney Herbert a.k.a. Herbert Saunders, a.k.a. Lardner, a.k.a. Dr Spence. The names Lardner and Spence may possibly be a journalist’s misprint. Which was his real name? The only one we know with any certainty was that he was not William Speece.
He was arrested as Herbert Saunders, and was known to police:
Before he had even crossed paths with Dr Speece, this person did four years of hard labour on a road gang.
Interestingly, his release information mentions that he had travelled on the Zealandia – the same ship on which Dr Speece migrated, although in a different year. This postal service ship first arrived in Australia in 1876 from England. Its passage was acknowledged as notable for the shortened time travel:
The Coffs Harbour Regional Museum recently received a treasure in the form of a letter written by Dr Will C. Speece at the turn of the 20th century. The letter was compiled on a typewriter, but that did not hide the tone of the writing: “I warn you that the doctor’s instruction’s [sic] to the crowd in search of grati-fied curiosity is_go to hell or go home_ and you see that you do as I say.”
Will Comely Speece was an American surgeon with a degree from Starling Medical College in Columbus, Ohio, his home state. He graduated in 1883. 
He migrated to Australia in 1885 on the Zealandia, practising first in Queensland as a medical insurance agent. He came to this region in 1898 as a doctor for the Bucca Mines, but as he was the only one in town with medical expertise, he also cared for the local population.
Dr Speece was also an avid writer of Letters to the Editor. He started soon after arrival in Australia; sending epistles to several newspapers and The Bulletin on topics unrelated to medical matters:
Some commentary is no longer appropriate, but he did want the best for his fellow man.
Dr Speece died on 10 October 1907, at the relatively early age of 45, after a short bout of pneumonia. His death certificate indicates that he was buried in the Coffs Harbour (Historic) Cemetery, but there is no record of his gravesite. [Source: NSW BDM 12829/1907.]
While investigating the life of Dr Speece, it became apparent that there were two men with the same name and title. After a series of crimes in the late 1870s, Sidney Herbert started using the name in 1891.
Where did their paths cross?
Why did Speece choose this area to settle in?
To be continued…
 California, U.S. Occupational Licences, Registers, and Directories, 1876-1969; Annual Physician Directory, 1896
The Coffs Harbour Regional Museum expresses its gratitude to the Coffs Harbour District Family History Society for passing this treasure into its care, for all to read.
It is not a new phenomenon for a shire council to receive complaints about the condition of local roads. But it is uncommon for the situation to inspire poetry.
In April 1918, an intrepid Minister for Local Government made a journey to several towns on the North Coast. His itinerary was carefully detailed in the newspaper of the day:
The unusual part of this itinerary was the mention of a particular street in a particular town: the Jetty Road in Coffs Harbour. It was heavily used as the main thoroughfare for all traffic to and from the Jetty.
A few years before the Ministerial visit, there was some competition for road space and the concern about the condition of the road continued. So the opportunity to highlight the issue was eagerly grasped by the newspapers of the day, in both longform and poetry.
Fitzgerald remained as Minister, and the state of the Jetty Road remained for some years.
Patriotism takes many forms – restoration and placement of the artefacts of war across Australia, monuments and memorials to the sacrificed, poetry and music filled with bravado, and special days for remembering.
The most gentle form of patriotic fervour must be lace-making, a skill adapted to show support and raise funds for soldiers at war.
This activity took place during both World Wars, but spread nationally during World War I.
The making of these delicate pieces was inspired by the context of the lives of their makers; for those in the collection of the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum, it was the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp. The recent discovery of four fine crocheted shapes required further investigation.
As The Maitland Daily Mercury explained in November 1915:
Mrs. L. A. Cavalier wrote asking the [School of Arts] committee's acceptance for placing on view in the library two samples of crochet work executed by her from designs taken from publications in the reading room. The designs are artistic and unique, and represent a large amount of labour and patience. One represents the "British Lion,", and the other gives the words "Dardanelles 1915, Our Heroes," with a warship in the centre. Mrs. Cavalier's object in undertaking the work was to arouse interest among other lady members, who might be able to improve on the designs, and so foster a work which might be a means of raising some small amounts to help the patriotic funds. Mrs. Cavalier was very heartily thanked for her thoughtfulness and her request acceded to.
Cordial was one of the treats inspiring early businesses to develop in Coffs Harbour. Cordials manufacturing was usually developed to disguise the poor taste and quality of water.  To quench the thirst of the local community, the Glynn Brothers – John and William – had established a cordial factory near the Coffs Harbour jetty by 1912.
The business was formally registered on 17 July 1917. John assumed full responsibility for it in 1921. As it grew, the factory had to deal with some location issues:
John Glynn decided to rebuild in a new location; so a new construction plan was devised and the business moved to Collingwood Street.
The site prior to construction is shown in this land sale poster:
The business continued into the late 1940s. Its artefacts live on in the collection of the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum.
Research is an essential part of writing a good memoir or non-fiction book. My second book will explore my O’Neill family history and the indigenous population they unsettled when they “pioneered and settled” the Karangi and Orara area in the 1880s. But where to get accurate information? We’d had a family reunion twenty-odd years ago and there was a booklet put together about the O’Neills but what about the Gumbaynggirr people? I wasn’t getting very far with my desktop research so I contacted the librarians at the Coffs Harbour Regional Museum and Libraries.
What a good choice that was! After clarifying what I was interested in, Debbie Campbell connected me with Coffs Collections, a digitised treasure chest of photos and documents from the Museum’s collection, sent me other documents on file and links to relevant information, and also put me in touch with Richard Widders, the Aboriginal Planner and Liaison Officer, who gave me the contact details of a number of Aboriginal elders and people with local knowledge.
I live in Sydney and was very excited to be travelling up the Pacific Highway to pursue these leads. I met with Debbie Campbell at the Museum and she laid out books and articles that contained information about the O’Neills and also took me to the Museum archives where Nerida Little, Digital Cultural Collections Specialist, presented a fascinating little black book on Karangi, with notes on the area written by William Maston in 1929. One of those notes was about my grandfather, “First store built early in 1927 for Alf O’Neill (opp. Orara Rd. turnoff). Later bought by George Kelly.”
I really appreciated the professional knowledge and skills of those I met and their enthusiasm, helpfulness and expertise in uncovering useful information. So, wherever you might be up to with your research, really, just ask a librarian!
A comment from Coffs Collections’ staff
Since we launched the new Coffs Collections service six months ago, we’ve added more than 3,000 items to our repository of 15,000 resources relating to the history of the region. These are the raw materials which we have made available for everyone to explore, to be inspired by, to uncover their heritage in.
When an artist, or a student with an assignment, or an author comes along, and is able to publish their story or develop a new idea after tapping into these resources, we know we have achieved success. We’ve helped to create something bigger from the collections assembled over many many years.
The Museum recently digitised a collection of photographs of Woolgoolga Adventure Village in the 1980s. A tourist attraction aimed at children, it contained miniature houses from fairy tales, a working miniature railway, a lake and a large park.
When we shared the images, we received a reply from someone who remembered that every Woopi kid had their birthday party there at some point. Not only that, but her parents now lived on the site where the Woolgoolga Adventure Village once stood. Here at the Museum it definitely pays to ‘know someone who knows someone’!
The residents of the area kindly gave permission for our staff to visit the site and take photos of what the Village looked like now. Here are some standouts!
Miniature cottage, 1980s
Miniature cottage, 2020
This miniature cottage had a new coat of paint, a brightly decorated front door and a great big tree tucked into its roof!
Model Sepik village, 1980s
Remains of hut, 2020
Anything in the Village made of wood was destroyed by termites. Residents were forced to remove the damaged houses, but cleverly repurposed what remained. The remaining section of a Sepik hut has been repurposed into a chicken coop.
Miniature castle, 1980s
Miniature castle, 2020
The mini castle has been repainted and is still used by the residents’ grandchildren to play in.
Tree stump house, or ‘The Fort’, 1980s
Tree stump house, or ‘The Fort’, 2020
The tree stump house still has its original paintwork, including the bright red front door. Our correspondent said both her and her own children liked to play on this, and almost all of them fell off it at one stage.
It was heartening to see the spirit of preservation shared by the residents living on the site of the former Woolgoolga Adventure Village. Rather than knock the buildings down, they were lovingly refurbished and repurposed.
The site is now privately owned and is not open to the public. We received special permission to visit and photograph the area. You can still enjoy the trip down memory lane by viewing the entire collection of images from then and now for free on Coffs Collections.
I would like to thank the residents who live on the site of the former Woolgoolga Adventure Village for letting me traipse around taking photographs. Thanks also to the original lender of the 1980s images. You have all made our collections and local knowledge richer!